The best definition of a Gospel I have ever heard is “a passion narrative with a long introduction”.
That is to say, a quarter of the ink spilt in every Gospel concerns a 72-hour period in the life of Jesus of Nazareth: from Holy Thursday to Easter.
A couple of Gospels take us a bit further—to a couple of other resurrection appearances, or to the Ascension. But the main thing is the story of the passion and the resurrection. The other three quarters of the Gospels are all prefatory remarks: things Jesus said and did that, in one way or other, illustrate the meaning and effects of the main event: His passion, death, and resurrection.
So the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, proclaims the new law of the new Moses who will enable us to carry that law out by means of the grace of the Holy Spirit poured out in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes? A sign pointing to the Eucharistic bread of life consecrated at the beginning of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, wherein the Risen Christ will henceforth offer the benefits of his crucified and glorified life to us.
The healing of the blind and deaf? Signs pointing to the effects of baptism, which confers the Holy Spirit poured for us by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And so on.
Everything that happens in the life of Jesus before the first Triduum makes sense only in light of the Triduum.Which makes me wonder: What did John the Baptist make of Jesus?
To be sure, John was vouchsafed some remarkable signs and intuitions. He had the remarkable story of his own birth to go on. He had the stories handed down to him by his parents of the Visitation. He knew the tale of his own father’s muteness and healing and angelic visits. He had (perhaps) known Jesus growing up from family celebrations and visits to Jerusalem during the great feasts. He had the astonishing epiphany of the Spirit when Jesus came to be baptised. He had heard with his own ears, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And he had declared by inspiration, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” He had boldly told the delegation from Jerusalem that he was not the Messianic Bridegroom, Jesus was.
But then everything went south. Instead of the Kingdom of God or any rewards for his faithful witness, he got the inside of a dank, rat-infested cell. After that, nothing. Nobody, either human or angelic, rescued him. Jesus was out there, doing whatever it was he was doing, but the kingdom never seemed to come.
So John, being only flesh and blood, started to doubt:
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Mt 11:2–3)